Nickel is a silver-white metal with a natural hardness that makes it useful in strengthening other metals, such as iron, copper, chromium, and zinc. These mixtures of metals are called alloys. Nickel alloys are used to make stainless steel, batteries, valves, heat exchangers, coins and jewelry. Nickel salts are used in plating. Other nickel compounds are used as catalysts that speed up the rate of chemical reactions in certain industrial processes.

Workers can come into contact with nickel in a variety of ways. Nickel dusts, fumes, powders, and solutions may cause respiratory (inhalation) and/or skin problems. When you breathe nickel dust, larger particles tend to stay in the nose, while smaller particles enter the lungs. The particles in the lungs may enter the bloodstream. Some nickel particles may leave your body with mucus that you spit out or swallow. Nickel that comes into contact with your skin can also enter the bloodstream, where it travels mainly to the kidneys. Nickel from the bloodstream can leave the body through urine.

Exposure to nickel may affect your health in a number of ways, depending on a several factors: the route by which it entered your body; how much nickel you came into contact with; and the duration of the contact. Health effects may include skin allergies, harm to the blood and kidneys, chronic bronchitis, and reduced lung function. Additionally, nickel is known to cause cancer of the lung and nasal sinus in humans.

An examination by a physician trained to recognize signs of exposure to nickel could help identify some of the health effects of such an exposure. The physician can then advise you on how to reduce your health risks and refer you for additional testing if necessary.

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